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'Playing down in Thomond Park… Jesus' - Isa Nacewa recalls intense rivalry between Leinster and Munster

Isa Nacewa, Leinster, supported by team-mate Nathan Hines escapes the attention of James Coughlan, 8, and Paul O'Connell, Munster
Isa Nacewa, Leinster, supported by team-mate Nathan Hines escapes the attention of James Coughlan, 8, and Paul O'Connell, Munster

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

Isa Nacewa was made know about the rivalry between Munster and Leinster very early on in his career for the men in blue.

Nacewa, who recently retired from professional rugby, moved to Leinster in the prime of Munster's dominance in 2008. At the time, Munster were on course for their second Heineken Cup in three years and looked far ahead of Leinster in terms of development.

Since then Munster have enjoyed little success with Leinster and Nacewa winning four European Cups.

The Fiji capped, New Zealand native had his eyes opened early to one of the fiercest rivalries in rugby.

Speaking on the The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast in association with Laya Healthcare, Nacewa said in his first game in Thomond the Munster pack let him know just how they felt about Leister.

"Playing down in Thomond Park… Jesus," he recalled.

"I remember being pinned on the bottom of the ruck. I could hear Mick O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and a few others controlling the game with a knee on my chest and not letting me off the ground.

"They had full control and leaving that placed was pretty intense too."

Often when you are involved in something it is hard to fully understand what is going on around you. When Nacewa had a chance to watch Leinster play Munster from the touchline he could see just what he was faced with, in a then supremely talented Munster side.

"You get a pretty good crash course in how intense the rivalry is sitting back and watching," he said.

"I think we lost both matches in the 08/09 season before Croke Park.

"ROG was a standout masterclass in RDS. I think there were eight or ten five-metre lineouts from perfect spirals to the corner."

Nacewa learned about playing his rivals in time to overturn their dominance however, with a huge victory in Croke Park in 2009 staking Leinster's claim as Ireland's top side. This, painfully for Munster fans, is something that he attributed largely to advice he received from Doug Howlett.

"I knew and learned the history by then in the lead up to the Croke Park match," he said.

"What an amazing event, 82,400 people that just blew my mind. Never in my life did I think i would play in front of that.

"Playing super rugby you have the blinkers on. You only believe super rugby is the greatest competition in the world because that's what you're sold. You don't really take any interest what's going on up north.

"Some of the most important advice I ever received in my career was from Doug Howlett. Dougie said to me, 'Don't think you could come here and  change everything in a week. You have to buy your time and settle into the culture'."

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